*The following essay placed third in the 2016 Milton Friedman Essay Contest
As the quality and value of education in public schools continues to decline across our nation, a growing number of parents are becoming dubiously acquainted with the helpless feeling that comes from being unable to provide meaningful educational opportunities to their children. Unfortunately, through decades of economic decline and social stratification, some parents have no option but to put their children in public school systems already experiencing the administrative failures and economic woes that send entire districts spiraling into cycles of growing class size, shrinking enrollment and depleted funding. All of these measures are crucial factors in determining where one can receive the best education.
In the middle of the 20th century, economist Milton Friedman sought to repair this educational catastrophe by relinquishing government control of education. In his book Capitalism and Freedom published in 1962, Friedman outlined the educational value of school choice, and the consumer behaviors that would result from creating competition with public education. By denationalizing education and providing vouchers to parents to enroll their children in the school of their choice, students would have the opportunity to earn an education that best fits their needs and aspirations. Instead of being forced into receiving a poor quality of education in a failing public school district, it was Friedman’s view that students and families should have the ability to seek greater learning outcomes and opportunities to drastically increase their shot at future prosperity.
In this regard, educational choice is important because without it, one’s future as a member of society is mostly predetermined. If any aspect of your education is inhibited at a young age, it can have a lasting negative effect on your life. It can be the difference of becoming an advanced student or an average student. It can determine what level of education you receive, both in high school and in college. It can minimize what educational opportunities are available to you after secondary education and control what employment opportunities are available without post-secondary education. In other words, a community without educational choice is one that accepts that the majority of its students can only be as educated as its local school district allows.
In towns and cities that rely heavily on local industry, the economic woes of business prove to be a costly blow to public education funding. In a state like Maine, it only takes one paper machine to be shut down in a mill town for numerous families to be displaced and a whole town or school budget to be rearranged. By forcing parents to keep their children in these failing school districts, government is inherently restraining a child’s right to education and controlling the measures of their future success.
Educational choice in Maine would give a child from an underprivileged background the opportunity to receive an education that could transform their quality of life and expand their educational horizons. It is the type of public policy that would reduce the cost of schooling across the board and simultaneously provide quality education that has the capacity to lift Maine families out of cyclical patterns of generational poverty and government dependency.
Our country has long held the traditional view that we as parents must provide our children with the opportunity of a brighter and more prosperous future. Without educational choice, millions of American schoolchildren will remain restricted to the education that is offered to them, rather than the education that is available. As long as Americans idly accept this woeful imperfection, our future is likely as predetermined as the prosperity of the average inner-city youth unable to make their own educational decisions.